Blast convict wants to sell kidney to fund his defence

Hanif Sayeed has been sentenced to death for his role in the 2003 Gateway of India blast

Haneef Sayyed, who, along with wife Fahmida, has been sentenced to death for their role in the 2003 Gateway of India blast, wants to sell off his kidney to raise money for legal defence, his lawyer said.

“He wrote to me last week saying that he wants to auction one of his kidneys to pay the lawyers,” advocate Sushant Kunjuraman told PTI on Thursday.

“I am going to file a petition in the High Court, seeking direction to the government that Sayyed be allowed to sell his kidney,” Mr. Kunjuraman said.

Sayyed was a taxi driver by profession before his arrest. Sayyed, his wife, and one Arshad Ansari were convicted by the court last year for carrying out twin blasts — at Gateway and Zaveri Bazaar — which killed 54 people.

Their appeals are pending before the High Court.

“Since he is in jail, if he wants to sell his kidney, government’s permission is required,” Mr. Kunjuraman said.

Under the Indian law, no human organ can be removed from a living donor unless it is intended for a close relative. Organ transplants require the consent of government-appointed committees, and no organ can be sold.

ISI pressurising Indian terror suspects to launch attacks

Indian terror suspects who are enjoying the patronage of Pakistan’s ISI are being pressurised to launch terror attacks in the country.

Official sources said many terrorists who have been given protection for quite a number of years have been asked to prove their worth or face consequences.

This was revealed during investigations into the alleged plans of Sikh militant group Babbar Khalsa International men to plant a bomb in the national capital and Himachal Pradesh.

Sources said the men were being provided directions by Pakistan-based Wadhwa Singh and Parminder Singh, who figure in dossier of wanted terrorists passed to Pakistan recently.

“The men have been provided cover for so long. There are no free lunches in the world. They have to show their worth to enjoy the shelter of the ISI,” a source said.

He said attempts are being made by certain men to re-group and launch attacks on country’s stability

Sources said that with Commonwealth Games scheduled later this year, the terror groups being provided all help by ISI are under more pressure to launch attacks but are jittery over busting of various modules by police across the country.

They said the efforts are to launch an attack and try to project the country as unsafe before the Games. They said the strategy would be to launch an attack through various groups based here rather than by those from outside the country.

Incidentally, on Wednesday, hundreds of armed militants including top LeT commander Abdul Wahid Kashmiri and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin had gathered in Kotli town of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) vowing to wage ‘jihad’ against India.
–indianexpress

Vanishing island solves India-Bangladesh dispute

KOLKATA — A tiny island at the centre of a territorial dispute between India and Bangladesh has disappeared beneath the waves due to rising sea levels and erosion, scientists say.

The uninhabited outcrop — called New Moore island by India and South Talpatti by Bangladesh — was 3.5 kilometres (about two miles) long and 3.0 kilometres wide before it was swallowed up by the Bay of Bengal.

“There’s no trace of the island anymore. After studying satellite images, I confirmed this from fishermen,” Sugata Hazra, a professor from the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, told reporters.

Hazra said global warming and erosion were responsible for solving a point of contention in the sometimes fractious relations between India and Bangladesh, which both claimed the island.

“Climate change has obliterated the source of dispute,” he said.

Hazra said temperatures in the region had been rising at an annual rate of 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

In 1981, the Indian navy planted its national flag on the island, but no permanent settlement was established.

The island, which is thought to have been created by a cyclone only about 40 years ago, sat in the Sundarbans mangrove delta in the mouth of the Hariabhanga River that divides India and Bangladesh.

At its height, it was never more than two metres (about six feet) above sea level.

Hazra said a larger island, called Lohachara, disappeared in the Bay of Bengal in 1996 after 4,000 inhabitants had fled.

At least five other islands in the region are also threatened, he said.

Bangladesh is one of the countries worst affected by climate change with some scientists predicting 20 million people will be displaced by 2050 because of rising sea levels

No U-turn by U.S. on direct access to Headley: Chidambaram

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has said that there was no confusion over the issue of Indian investigators getting direct access to Pakistani-American LeT operative David Coleman Headley or not.

“No, I don’t think so,” Mr. Chidambaram shot back when asked whether there was a U-turn by the US after its envoy in New Delhi Timothy J Roemer said that “no decision on direct access for India to David Headley has been made.”

”…If you reflect more carefully that sentence (of Roemer) no way (it) contradicts what the US Attorney (Eric Holder) has told me,” Mr. Chidambaram, who is here on an official visit, told a TV news channel.

Last night Home Secretary G K Pillai said that India was not taking cognisance of Mr. Roemer’s remarks and would be sending its investigators to the US at the earliest.

“I think we are going ahead and we are not really taking cognisance of the US ambassador’s remarks,” he said.

The 49-year-old Headley had last week pleaded guilty to all the 12 terror charges of conspiracy involving bombing public places in India, murdering and maiming persons and providing material support to foreign terrorist plots and Pakistan-based LeT besides aiding and abetting the murder of six US citizens in the 26/11 attacks that killed 166 people.

Following a telephonic discussion with Holder, Mr. Chidambaram had directed National Intelligence Agency and other agencies concerned in the case to quickly prepare documents necessary to start a judicial proceeding in which Indian authorities could require Headley to answer questions and to testify.

India is likely to send a team of investigators in April to question Headley.

PTI story from Chicago adds

Headley will cooperate: lawyer

David Coleman Headley, who has confessed to plotting Mumbai attacks, will cooperate with Indian authorities as required under the terms of his plea agreement if the US government allows, his lawyer has said.

John Theis said 49-year-old Headley’s terms of the plea agreement on March 18 requires that he allows himself to be interviewed by Indian authorities.

“Headley will cooperate to the extent it is required to by the terms of his plea agreement but as for the specifics. I think really our government and our US attorney’s office have to be the ones to determine the actual form (of access),” he told PTI when asked to comment about US Ambassador Timothy J Roemer’s statement that no decision on direct access for India to David Headley has been made.

Headley moved a guilty plea at a US court on March 18 where he confessed to plotting the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans.

“He is in US custody and so interviewing him does implicate the security issues and things like that,” Theis said.

When asked if Indian investigators, who come to the US, can be assured that they would get access to Headley and be able to put their questions to him, Theis said: “I’m not the one to ask that. You will have to ask our government, our US attorney’s office. They are the ones who are going to determine how this actually happens“.

Meanwhile, an FBI spokesperson told PTI: “If the plea agreement says that Headley has agreed to meet with investigators from India, then that is what he will do. It is a question of when and where. But I’m sure if that is what he agreed to, that is what will happen”.

Pranab sticks to 7.2% growth

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Monday said the government was sticking to an estimated 7.2 percent growth rate for this fiscal (2009-10) and 8.5 percent for 2010-11.

“I have given some indication in the budget speech and the economic survey. So far as this year is concerned, we are sticking to 7.2 percent GDP (Gross Domestic Product)growth and 8.5 percent for 2010-11,” Mukherjee said.

The finance minister was talking to reporters on the margins of a workshop on financial literacy, organised by the Reserve Bank of India and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international body.

Anti-hijacking law gets tougher, death sentence included as punishment

NEW DELHI: The UPA government on Friday made the anti-hijacking law much tougher by including death sentence as a punishment.

The Cabinet was expected to consider the proposal moved by civil aviation ministry to amend Anti-Hijacking Act of 1982 to make it more stringent to deter hijackers from using an aircraft as a missile.

With enhanced terror threats, a group of ministers headed by home minister P Chidambaram had cleared the “tougher” proposals paving the way for civil aviation ministry to move the amendments for Cabinet approval.

The Cabinet’s approval paves the way for amending section 4 of the 1982 Act, which provides for life imprisonment and a fine for hijacking, to include death penalty also.

The government is likely to place the proposed amendments before Parliament in the budget session itself once the House meets again after the recess.

The GoM had also decided to incorporate a new clause to cover the aspect of conspiracy to hijack an aircraft which does not exist in the 1982 Act.

The fresh move to ensure legal sanction to anti-hijacking policy comes almost five year after the Cabinet Committee on Security had cleared it in August, 2005. The policy allows shooting down of a “hostile plane if there is conclusive evidence that it is likely to be used as a missile to blow up strategic establishments”.

The policy recognises that hijacked aircraft can be transformed into a “hostile” entity. It also prescribes surrounding of hijacked planes by fighter aircrafts in Indian airspace.

The law will authorise Indian Air Force to take quick steps for scrambling fighters to guard and guide hijacked aircraft and force land it in an Indian airport.

To avoid Kandahar-like situations, the policy also provides that no negotiations whatsoever would be held with hijackers. The policy talks about immobilisation of an aircraft and not allowing it to take off if the hijacking takes place on Indian soil, besides scrambling of IAF fighters if the hijacked plane remains in Indian airspace.

–timesofindia

‘Foreign governments can quiz Headley on U.S. soil’

With the U.S. government’s assurance that he will not be extradited to India or Pakistan, LeT operative David Coleman Headley has agreed to be “available” to foreign governments, such as India, who may “interview” him only on US soil.

Under the plea agreement that Headley, a Pakistani-origin American citizen, has entered into with the prosecutors for pleading guilty to 12 counts of terror charges, he cannot be extradited to India, Pakistan or Denmark if he pleads guilty or is convicted of the offences in the superseding indictment.

“Headley has agreed to not only continue his cooperation with the government, which he has been doing since October, but also to make himself available for interviews by other governments in this country. As part of his agreement, he has agreed to allow himself to be interviewed by foreign governments in this country,” Headley’s attorney John Theis told reporters after the hearing.

When asked, if this means that Indian investigators could come to US and talk to Headley, even about the Mumbai attacks, Mr. Theis said “Yes. If he refuses to talk to foreign governments here, it would mean a violation of the plea agreement“.

The plea agreement states that whenever directed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, “Headley must fully and truthfully participate in any debriefings for the purpose of gathering intelligence or national security information.”

The 49-year-old Pakistani-American had further agreed that, when directed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he would fully and truthfully testify in any foreign judicial proceedings held in the U.S. by way of deposition, or video-conferencing.

Mr. Theis said Headley’s guilty plea is a “manifestation, one example of his regret and his remorse. His conduct contributed to the harm of many people“.

Since his arrest in October, Headley has been cooperating with the government and has provided substantial assistance in the investigation of this case as well as “critical” information regarding intelligence on other matters.

He said all the information that Headley has given to U.S. authorities is and has been shared with India and Denmark.

Through the 13 days that Headley “talked”, he was informed of his right to remain silent, of his right to counsel, that anything he said could and would be used against him.

“But he chose not to exercise those rights and in fact to provide timely, thorough, trustworthy and complete information,” his lawyer Robert Seeder added.

Mr. Seeder said the information provided by Headley has “significantly helped the United States and has also aided other countries”.

“His cooperation has potentially saved the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of people and his cooperation is going to continue throughout the remainder of this case,” Mr. Theis said, adding Headley was never involved in any kind of plot involving U.S. soil or U.S. citizens, “not knowingly“.

The lawyers refused to comment on the issue of Headley, son of a former Pakistani diplomat and a Philadelphia socialite, being a double agent.

“There is nothing in the plea agreement about anything about that (his being a double agent). I don’t know where that kind of language comes from“.

On whether Headley would get a life sentence, Mr. Theis said the range of the sentence could be either life or any other sentence less than that as authorised by law.

“It is obviously a complicated case. Sentencing is up to the Judge. This case has a long way to go,” he added.

‘Headley attended LeT terror camps in Pakistan’

Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley had attended five terror camps being run by LeT in Pakistan such training between 2002-03 according to a Headley’s plea agreement document

Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley had participated in terror camps being run by LeT in Pakistan despite promises by the then President Parvez Musharraf in 2002 to the Bush Administration that all such facilities will be shut down.

Headley, a LeT operative arrested in October 2009 by the FBI, had attended five such training camps run by the terror outfit between 2002-03, according to a Headley’s plea agreement document which was submitted by US Attorney, Patrick J FitzGerald before a Chicago court on Thursday.

He attended a three-week course starting in February 2002 that provided indoctrination on the merits of waging jihad, next he participated in a three-week course starting in August 2002 to get training in the use of weapons and grenades

Headley learnt about close combat tactics, the use of weapons and grenades and survival skills during a three—month course in starting April 2003; he got training about the counter—surveillance skills starting August 2003 and starting December 2003 he received combat and tactical training.

Notably in January 2002, Gen. Musharraf had said that he would not allow LeT to carry any anti-India activities inside Pakistan.

But LeT ran terrorist training camps unabated even as Gen. Musharraf conducted back channel negotiations with India on the resolution of the Kashmir problem between 2002—2006, the agreement said.

Starting in or about August 2002, defendant (Headley) attended a three-week course and received training in, among other skills, the use of weapons and grenades. Starting in or about April 2003, defendant attended a three—month course and received training in various skills, including, but not limited to, close combat tactics, the use weapons and grenades, and survival skills,” the agreement said.

“Starting in or around August 2003, defendant attended a three—week course and received training in, among other skills, counter—surveillance. Starting in or around December 2003, defendant attended an approximately three month course and received combat and tactical training,” it said .

Headley had pleaded guilty on all 12 counts of charges against him in a Chicago court.

The plea agreement also proves beyond doubt the direct connection between LeT and Al Qaeda.

According to it, a retired Pakistani Major, Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed (Abdur Rehman), also known as “Pasha,” told Headley that if LeT did not help him in carrying out attack against the Danish newspaper, he would get someone else.

Although not identified by name at the time, Headley later learnt this individual to be co-defendant Ilyas Kashmiri.

Abdur Rehman previously had told Headley that he had been working with Kashmiri and that Kashmiri was in direct contact with a senior leader of “Al Qaeda”, the agreement said.

“Pasha stated to defendant (Headley) words to the effect that if ‘Lashkar’ did not go through with the attack, Pasha knew someone who would. Although not identified by name at the time, defendant later learned this individual to be co-defendant Ilyas Kashmiri.

“Pasha previously had stated to defendant that he had been working with Kashmiri and that Kashmiri was in direct contact with a senior leader for Al Qaeda,” the Plea Agreement said.

Kasab guilty of killings at Taj, Oberoi, Nariman House: Prosecution

Lone surviving gunman Ajmal Kasab is guilty of killing people at The Taj, Hotel Oberoi-Trident and Nariman House although he did not directly participate in the terror attacks at these places, the prosecution argued before the trial court on Thursday.

Some portions of the confession made by Kasab before a magistrate were corroborated by telephonic conversations between the terrorists and their Pakistani handlers intercepted by the police during terror attacks, which proved Kasab’s role in the conspiracy, special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam submitted.

While Kasab and slain terrorist Abu Ismail had rained bullets at people at Chhatrapati Shivaji terminus, Cama Hospital, Metro Junction and planted bombs in two taxis, eight other team members had killed people in Hotel Taj, Hotel Trident and Nariman House.

“Kasab has been changing colours from time to time and he has also refused to acknowledge CCTV footage of his friends who struck terror at Hotel Taj, Trident and Nariman House.

But I have circumstantial evidence to establish that Kasab is guilty of attacks at these places also,” Nikam argued.

Nikam told judge M.L. Tahaliyani that Kasab had stated in his confession that LeT chief Hafeez Sayeed had given a code name to all the attackers including himself (Kasab). This is corroborated in telephone conversations between the terrorists and their handlers.

Nikam further argued Kasab had stated in confession that LeT leader Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi had told terrorist Abu Ismael to open the bottom valve of Kuber boat (by which they arrived in Mumbai) so that the vessel would sink and evidence would be destroyed.

Kasab had stated in confession that they did not open the valve of Kuber boat while leaving the vessel because they spotted another boat and thought it belonged to the Indian Navy.

So in a haste, they forgot to open the valve.

This is also corroborated in telephone conversations the attackers had with their handlers during the terror attacks at the two hotels and Nariman House, Nikam said.

Nikam said this proved that whatever Kasab had told the magistrate in his confession was “completely true“.

Quoting another instance, Prosecutor Nikam said Kasab had also stated in his confession that he had killed Amarsinh Solanki, the navigator of Kuber boat.

The prosecution state that the terrorists had come from Pakistan by boat. Midway, they hijacked the Kuber boat and arrived by that vessel near Mumbai. Then they switched to a dingy (rubber boat) which they had brought from Pakistan to reach the coast.

India, Bangladesh hold talks on sharing of Teesta water

The Joint River Commission was established by India and Bangladesh to work for the common interests and sharing of water resources, irrigation, floods and cyclones control

As the two-day water talks began here on Thursday, Bangladesh hoped to reach an interim agreement on the vexed issue of Teesta river water sharing at the meeting being held after a gap of five years while India insisted on sorting out certain technical issues first.

“The expectation is high. We are here to grow the relations between the two countries further,” Bangladesh Water Resources Minister Ramesh Chandra Sen told PTI here.

He was asked whether Bangladesh was hopeful of reaching an interim agreement on water sharing.

The ministerial-level Joint River Commission is meeting after a gap of five years here for two days to discuss the vexed Teesta water sharing issue.

Asked about India’s stand that certain technical issues needed to be settled first, Mr. Sen said he would be able to speak on the issue after meeting his Indian counterpart Pawan Kumar Bansal.

Sources in the Water Resources Ministry said while Bangladesh wants to have water sharing on 50-50 basis available at Gazoldoba — the only release point of Teesta river water to Bangladesh — India is yet to take a final call on the issue as much will depend on West Bengal Government.

There are also differences between the two neighbours on the methodology to be used to calculate availability of water in various seasons in the river to reach an agreement on water sharing.

Bangladesh Water Resources Secretary Sheikh Mohammad Wahid-Uz Zaman has said his country expected to reach an understanding at least for an interim deal ensuring equal sharing of Teesta waters this time while the two countries would be able to resolve water sharing issues related to all common rivers one by one

Govt Assures 10000 Additional Medical Post Graduate Seats

New Delhi: On Wednesday i.e. March 17, 2010, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad announced that soon, there will be additional 10,000 post graduate seats in medical education within two years, and 4,000 of them will be available from the upcoming academic session.
 
Mr Azad also mentioned that many graduates of medical education are going abroad for studies. Therefore, the ministry is assuring 10,000 more PG seats within the next two years.

Further, he added that the seats will be available in central as well as in the state medical colleges. As per sources, the announcement was made during the 94th convocation of Lady Hardinge Medical College.

Sharad Pawar favours 33 per cent quota for women

Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar at the Parliament House in New Delhi.

Putting at rest all speculation about his views on the Women’s Reservation Bill, Nationalist Congress Party leader and a key ally of the United Progressive Alliance government, Sharad Pawar, said here on Thursday that he favoured a 33 per cent reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies. “The Bill should be passed [in the Lok Sabha] as it is,’’ he said.

Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the Kharif Campaign, 2010, here on Thursday, Mr. Pawar said there is no reservation for minorities or the Other Backward Class under the Constitution. “Therefore, first let the Bill be passed with 33 per cent reservation for women. We don’t want the quota to be reduced,’’ he categorically said.

To a question, Mr. Pawar said he did have a talk with Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh (who is insisting for a quota within quota or for a reduced percentage of reservation for women) but as far as he was concerned, he does not want the quota of 33 per cent to be reduced.

Asked about the controversy over the comments made by former Congress spokesman Satyavrat Chaturvedi, Mr. Pawar said, “that chapter is closed. These things can happen.’’

Asked if he was seeking an apology from Mr. Chaturvedi, who has since been divested of his position as a Congress spokesman, Mr Pawar said, “No.’

‘Taliban is part of very negative presence in Afghanistan’

An Afghan employee looks from the shattered window of a damaged building, a day after the coordinated suicide attacks by the Taliban at two hotels in Kabul on Feb. 26, 2010 killing up to nine Indians

Warning that the Taliban is part of the “very negative presence” in Afghanistan, India has asked the international community not to find quick solutions to the extremist problem and be prepared for a long haul.

“There are certain forces that spread terror. The Taliban is part of the very negative presence,” Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who is in the United States on a 6-day visit, told PTI here.

Emphasising that India understood the Afghan society due to its centuries-old civilisational ties, Ms. Rao said the international community should prepare for the “long haul and not try to find quick solutions to the problem.”

Ms. Rao, who had extensive discussions with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior officials of the Obama Administration on Afghanistan, also spoke against a distinction being made between a “good Taliban and bad Taliban“.

Her comments came against the backdrop of the US and the Hamid Karzai government in Afghanistan planning to engage with moderate elements of the Taliban to induct them into country’s polity.

“India and the international community have to stay involved in Afghanistan in order to deal with this problem that has been created by these extremist groups in this country.

“It is very important to deal with these problems in a way that Afghanistan becomes a stable and prosperous democracy. It this that is the core of what we are saying and what we convey to our friends like the United States,” Ms. Rao said.

Washington acknowledges India’s influence in Afghanistan and appreciates the large—scale developmental work being carried out in that country.

“The United States fully recognises that India has legitimate interests in Afghanistan. It appreciates the development work we do there… It appreciates that we are force of stability and moderation in our region. We are not scaling down in Afghanistan,” she said.

India has made it clear that it will not be scaling down its operations in Afghanistan notwithstanding a spate of recent attacks targeting its citizens, including the one on two guest houses in central Kabul in which nine Indians were killed.

During the talks with her counterpart Bill Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Ms. Rao stressed that Afghanistan presented the foremost security—related challenge in the region.

She also reiterated India’s long held position that it was important for the international community to stay the present course in Afghanistan for as long as it is necessary.

“The US interlocutors conveyed their appreciation of the important developmental work being done by India in Afghanistan,” a statement from the Indian Embassy said.

Parties want paid news to be treated as electoral malpractice

Leaders, cutting across party lines, have demanded that paid news be treated as an electoral malpractice that is liable for prosecution by the Election Commission ( EC).

The spectre of selling news space in lieu of money reached ”alarming proportions” during the last Lok Sabha elections and political parties have demanded stringent action against the perpetrators since it compromises the essence of a free press.

They also demanded that the media exercise self- regulation and refuse to succumb to pressures of the market.

Speaking at a seminar organised here jointly by the Editors Guild of India, Press Associations, the Broadcaster Editors Association, and the Indian Women’s Press Corps, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat said the malice of paid news was the fallout of the amount of money involved in elections. Saying that self regulation alone will not be able to curb such practices, Karat said it should be termed as an electoral malpractice. Such classification will make it possible for the EC to file cases for any violation, he said.

Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj claimed that politicians were the biggest victims of this syndrome.

Recalling her experience while campaigning in the Vidisha Lok Sabha constituency in Madhya Pradesh, Swaraj said a media organisation had demanded Rs 1 crore in return for publishing news items in her favour. She said she refused to give in to such demands and that she was ready to name the publication.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari said the problem was much deeper as freedom of the press was now in contradiction with the freedom of the owner of the press. He also favoured self- regulation among the media.

Election commissioner S Y Quraishi said several political parties had informed the commission about paid news but no one had lodged a formal complaint. He cited technical problems as no direct evidence was available about money exchanging hands. He added that the EC would augment its machinery to tackle the problem.

Prasar Bharati chief Mrinal Pande said editors alone cannot be held responsible for what is appearing in newspapers as they cannot check each and every edition being published from different cities. Editors Guild president Rajdeep Sardesai suggested incorporating disclosure norms in news and programmes paid for by a particular party.

The India Today Group, which covers publications such as Mail Today and India Today and channels such as Aaj Tak and Headlines Today, have already pledged it would not allow its space to be used for paid news

–India Today

11th plan aims to create 5.8 crore new jobs: Govt

 

A file picture of Union Minister for Labour and Employment Mallikarjun Kharge

The government on Monday said 5.8 crore new job opportunities are likely to be created during the 11th Five year plan (2007—12), thanks to various steps including three stimulus packages since December 2008.

Replying to a supplementary during the Question Hour in Lok Sabha, Labour and Employment Minister Mallikarjun Kharge said employment is projected to grow at an average rate of 2.73 per cent annually.

He informed the House that the government has released Rs. 27,368.76 crore till April—January period of 2009—10 under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

Similarly, in other employment generation schemes like Swarnajayanti Swarozgar Yojna and Shahari Rozgar Yojna, the government has been making funds available to different States to create new job opportunities.

On whether the government would give unemployment allowance to youths, Mr. Kharge said, “As of now there is no such plan.”

Inflation rises to 9.89 p.c. in February

Wholesale price-based inflation rose to 9.89 per cent in February from 8.56 per cent in the previous month due to increase in prices of certain food items such as sugar and the hike in excise duty on fuel announced last month.

Sugar prices rose by 55.47 per cent in February year-on-year while potatoes turned costlier by 30 per cent and pulses by 35.58 per cent.

Among fuel items, petrol prices rose by 11.73 per cent and high-speed diesel around 9 per cent.

Overall the fuel index for the month rose by 1.5 per cent. Non-coking coal rose 12 per cent, coking coal 9 per cent and high-speed diesel and petrol by 2 per cent each.

Inflation is expected to rise further following the hike in excise duty on petrol and diesel in the Budget.

To tame inflation, the RBI, in its quarterly monetary review, had asked banks to keep aside more cash with them. It hiked the cash reserve ratio-amount banks have to park with the apex bank-by 75 basis points to 5.75 per cent, which would suck out Rs. 36,000 crore from the system.

The RBI’s projection of inflation touching 8.5 per cent by this fiscal-end has already been breached last month.

New Emigration Law to be introduced

Seeking to prevent exploitation of Indian workers abroad, the government is planning to make it mandatory for foreign employers from certain countries to register in India under a new Emigration Law.

The Emigration Bill that will replace the legislation of 1983 is expected to be introduced in Parliament during the ongoing Budget session.

The draft Bill has been sent to various ministries including Law Ministry and Home Ministry for their comments and once the process is completed, it will be taken up by the Cabinet for consideration.

Under the new law, an Immigration Authority would be set up to oversee all the aspects related to movement of workers, mainly to Gulf countries and Malaysia.

“Foreign employers from notified countries will have to register with the authority,” Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi told PTI in an interview.

The notified countries are 18 countries of Gulf and Malaysia.

The proposal for mandatory registration has been mooted as workers wanting to go abroad for greener pastures are often duped by the recruitment agents and touts.

There have been umpteen cases where passports of the workers are confiscated by foreign employers or touts soon after arrival to their destinations abroad. The workers are then exploited and not paid the wages as promised.

“The current Emigration Act was framed 26 years back. We have drafted the new bill considering today’s requirement,” the Overseas Affairs Minister said.

“The salient feature of the new Bill is to create an immigration authority. They will have the complete control over the immigration process,” Mr. Ravi added.

Once the authority is set up, government would disband the office of the Protector of Emigrants (POE), which has often been accused of being involved in corrupt practices and harassment.

“The proposed authority will have complete control over all the matters related to migration,” Mr. Ravi said.

Highlighting other key features of the proposed law, Mr. Ravi said the bill also proposes measures to have control over recruitment agents and check human trafficking.

“We want to make every recruitment agent accountable. We want to ensure effective control over agents,” he said.

Mr. Ravi said his ministry also seeks to make registration compulsory for the students wanting to go abroad for studies.

The draft bill also provides for more power to the state police to deal with unscrupulous recruiting agents who duped those wanting to migrate to other countries.

Mr. Ravi said in view of the complaints about harassment received from workers, the Overseas Affairs Ministry has undertaken a massive audio visual campaign to educate prospective workers going abroad and warning them about the risks of dealing through unauthorised agents.

India among world’s top 3 preferred investment destinations

India is among the world’s top three preferred investment destination, but equity caps limit the size of potential inflows, according to a Columbia University report.

The report cited liberalisation in FDI policy and several economic sectors, a globally competitive workforce, and rapid GDP and market growth as the main drivers of foreign investment in India.

Yet, it said equity caps limit the size of potential new inflows and national security concerns might prompt more oversight of FDI approval processes.

According to the 15-page report ‘Inward FDI in India and its policy context’ India is also the 13th largest in terms of foreign investment inflows, which have risen 15-fold since 2000.

The report said while investors initially concentrated on manufacturing, power and telecommunications, they now focus on services.

Among other visible trends, firms in developed countries dominated investment in the 1990s, but in the past decade developing country investors have also become significant, it said.

A third of the post-2000 inflow is invested around Mumbai, a manufacturing hub, and one-fifth around Delhi, a services hub.

Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad are other key destinations, the report said.

Although the global crisis slowed the rate of FDI growth in India in 2009, it also helped reinforce India’s position among global investors, it said.

Since most global firms found that their Indian and Chinese operations considerably outperformed their developed market investments, they now accord even greater strategic value to these two destinations, the report pointed out.

Noting that India’s attractive GDP growth rate and superior market performance are likely to attract growing FDI inflows, the report said CEOs consistently rank India as one of the world’s top 3-5 preferred investment destinations in recent global surveys.

“Despite the crisis, a number of leading global firms – including Volkswagen, Telenor, LG, Cairn, and a number of IT companies – have announced large-scale investments in various sectors.

In contrast to the favourable development of economic drivers of inward FDI, the security—induced tightening of approval procedures and oversight policies might limit the potential inflow of FDI, as might the difficulty in obtaining operational clearances,” it said.

Govt proposes free treatment of heart, kidney for BPL persons

The government on Friday said treatment for heart, kidney and bone diseases is provided free of cost to all persons below poverty line (BPL) and at subsidised rates to others in government hospitals.

Replying to a supplementary in the Lok Sabha during Question Hour, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said the government was making efforts to meet requirements as patients from all over the country come to Delhi for such treatments.

“We have started a two-pronged strategy – increasing the number of specialist and super-specialist doctors, and creating infrastructure,” he said.

“We are trying to upgrade both human resources and infrastructure simultaneously. This year 4,000 additional specialists and super specialists would be added,” he said adding that out of 8 proposed AIIMS-like institutions, six would be ready within next two years.

This would reduce burden on Delhi’s hospitals, he said.

The government has approved establishment of 8 AIIMS-like institutions with super-speciality facilities in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Uttarkhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

On whether there was a proposal to equip hospitals with newly-developed Nano-sensor technology, Mr. Azad said, “There is no proposal with the Ministry to equip hospitals with Nano-sensor devices for diagnosis of heart diseases.”

Manmohan Singh to get World Statesman award

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

The Appeal of Conscience Foundation on Friday announced to felicitate Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with its prestigious World Statesman Award for the year 2010.

The award would be presented to the Prime Minister in September, said John Negroponte, the former Deputy Secretary of State, at a reception hosted at the residence of Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Meera Shankar in Washington on Thursday.

Ms. Shankar said the Prime Minister has graciously accepted the award.

Among the past recipients of this prestigious award include British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (2009), French President Nicolas Sarkozy (2008), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (2007) and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2006).

The Appeal of Conscience Foundation was founded by Rabbi Arthur Schneier in 1965. It has worked on behalf of religious freedom and human rights throughout the world.

This interfaith coalition of business, religious and foreign policy leaders promotes peace, tolerance and ethnic conflict resolution.

It also provides a voice of conscience to protect minorities at a time of increasing ethnic conflict in many regions of the world.